A very good friend and associate was in debate with me over some horrific trends within employee illness and mental health issues within business recently, and, with this in mind and reading a report another friend sent me, I decided to do some of my own investigations into why we are getting so ill with life, relationships, work, imbalance and what is the root cause of these problems.
Flexible working practices can do more harm than good to workers because they encourage an “always on” culture that can have a heavy psychological toll, experts have warned.
Working away from the office or part-time can isolate employees from social networks and career opportunities while fostering a “grasing” instinct that keeps dangerous stress hormones at persistently high levels, they said.
Flexible working policies can also raise the risk of poor working conditions, and create resentment among colleagues, while the blurring of lines between work and home life is stressful for some people.
The findings are a blow to advocates of more sophisticated measures for enabling people to achieve a work-life balance in rich economies that tend to overwork some people while underutilising millions of others.
With an estimated 10M working days lost to work-related stress in the UK last year, finding a good balance between the demands of home and the job now dominates concerns about the impact of work on health.
Work within organisations, there has been a definitive rise in those who are regularly stressed, diagnosed as clinically depressed or suffering from mental health problems. This can show itself through emotions rising to the surface and emerging as tears or disruptive comments and behaviour. Some would say that these cases are infrequent and represent individual personal problems, unrelated to the business.
Work is a major part of our adult lives so it is no wonder that everything is stretched to breaking point when you consider what the average person has to contend with on a daily basis in a struggling economy:
• Constantly changing goal posts
• Increased targets and work but no more time or resource
• Fear of being laid off and a sense that you lack control
• Low morale and job satisfaction
• Criticism and blame culture when things go wrong
• No remuneration for hard work
According to research provided by Bupa, UK workers take an average of nine days’ sick leave each year, more than four times as many as other Western European countries. This costs UK employers about £29 billion a year in lost productivity. Reasons range from commonplace illnesses like colds and flu to chronic musculoskeletal problems, while mental health conditions are the single most widespread cause of long-term absence. Alleviate the burden of sick days with these steps to improve staff’s health.
This term covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or tissues and can be exacerbated or caused by workplace tasks.. Problems of this nature include upper and lower limb disorders, repetitive strain injuries, osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. There are several measures you can take to reduce employees’ risk of these disorders, which include:
– make the task and workstation suitable for each worker
– introduce regular breaks to reduce the risk of repetitive injury
– if lifting heavy items is part of an employees’ job, ensure they undergo adequate training.
Mental health issues
Creating a supportive working environment for employees makes economic sense: around £2.4 billion is spent annually on employees who leave work because of a mental health problem6. Many people with mental health problems want to work, but they must feel confident that their employer supports them. If one of your employees is off sick due to a mental health issue, be sure to communicate with them regularly and have a flexible system in place that recognises their challenges and needs within the working environment.
Colds and flu viruses can spread rapidly through a workplace. Encourage good hygiene with well-placed hand sanitisers, boxes of tissues and a tolerant sickness policy. Encouraging employees to take time off could actually reduce the number of days lost by illness overall. You might want to consider offering the flu vaccine to staff too, as immunising your employees against the flu is the best insurance against the virus spreading.
Food poisoning is caused by germs, toxins or chemicals in food or drink and it can be contagious. Cross-contamination is one of the most common causes of food poisoning so keep food preparation areas clean and ensure the communal fridge is cleaned weekly.
The health of a business relies on the health of its employees. Reducing staff sick days means supporting staff when they are sick, encouraging good hygiene and overseeing employees’ physical wellbeing at work. Creating a reassuring, communicative workplace where employees are happy and confident in their employer’s support can have a positive effect on absenteeism.
Here are some tips for combatting stress and work related illnesses:
Tip 1: Recognise warning signs of excessive stress at work
When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become irritable or withdrawn. This can make you less productive and less effective in your job, and make the work seem less rewarding. If you ignore the warning signs of work stress, they can lead to bigger problems. Beyond interfering with job performance and satisfaction, chronic or intense stress can also lead to physical and emotional health problems.
Tip 2: Reduce job stress by taking care of yourself
When stress at work interferes with your ability to perform in your job, manage your personal life, or adversely impacts your health, it’s time to take action. Start by paying attention to your physical and emotional health. When your own needs are taken care of, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress. The better you feel, the better equipped you’ll be to manage work stress without becoming overwhelmed.
Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat. Take things one step at a time, and as you make more positive lifestyle choices, you’ll soon notice a reduction in your stress levels, both at home and at work.
Tip 3: Reduce job stress by prioritizing and organizing
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple steps you can take to regain control over yourself and the situation. Your newfound ability to maintain a sense of self-control in stressful situations will often be well-received by coworkers, managers, and subordinates alike, which can lead to better relationships at work. Here are some suggestions for reducing job stress by prioritizing and organizing your responsibilities.
Tip 4: Reduce job stress by improving emotional intelligence
Even if you’re in a job where the environment has grown increasingly stressful, you can retain a large measure of self-control and self-confidence by understanding and practicing emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and use your emotions in positive and constructive ways. When it comes to satisfaction and success at work, emotional intelligence matters just as much as intellectual ability. Emotional intelligence is about communicating with others in ways that draw people to you, overcome differences, repair wounded feelings, and defuse tension and stress.
Tip 5: Reduce job stress by breaking bad habits
Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn around these self-defeating habits, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Tip 6: Learn how managers or employers can reduce job stress
It’s in a manager’s best interest to keep stress levels in the workplace to a minimum. Managers can act as positive role models, especially in times of high stress. If a respected manager can remain calm in stressful work situations, it is much easier for his or her employees to also remain calm
Final thought: ‘worrying’ is usually focused on the future on what might happen and what you will do about it. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. In contrast to the previous techniques of challenging your anxious thoughts or postponing them to a worry period, this strategy is based on observing and then letting them go. Together, they can help you identify where your thinking is causing problems, while helping you get in touch with your emotions.
Using mindfulness meditation to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes practice to reap the benefits. At first, you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your worries. Try not to get frustrated. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of the negative worry cycle.
Marilu Henner once said:
“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”